The Savoy: The landmark of luxury

Many of the Savoy's staff have been poached from top hotels and restaurants around the world

Click to follow
The Independent Travel

The original isn't always the best. Cars, computers, songs by Bob Dylan: so many good ideas have been taken and improved by others. When The Savoy opened in 1889, it was London's first luxury hotel, offering hot and cold running water, 24-hour room service, electric lighting and "ascending rooms", or lifts, as we now say.

There were even telephones in the bathrooms. Indeed, the design included so many en suites that one builder enquired if they expected the guests to be amphibians. For a public used to chamber pots, such luxury was unimaginable. The Savoy has been a byword for style and glamour ever since.

Today, it takes a little more to impress, and the question is whether, after a three-year refurbishment programme, The Savoy can be both the first and last word in luxury. The answer is a defiant "yes".

What started out as a £100m facelift, planned to last maybe a year, turned into a £220m renovation after structural problems emerged. Floors had subsided, the whole place had to be underpinned, and 65 miles of wiring was replaced. A high-profile relaunch culminates this Monday with the opening of The Savoy Grill under Gordon Ramsay.


The good news is that, essentially, nothing has changed. Nothing, that is, that matters. Your taxi still bowls up the wrong side of the road and deposits you beneath those green art-deco letters into a pool of golden light. You still swing through revolving brass doors into a foyer where Noël Coward would feel chez lui. The colours have been lightened, but the black-and-white marble floors remain, and mahogany decks the walls. Off to the left you can hear the shick-shack of cocktails being shaken at the American Bar, or carry straight on and descend into the central showpiece of the Thames Foyer.

An important difference here is that light now shafts through the glass ceiling dome, which had been covered up since the Second World War blackout. A vast wrought-iron gazebo stands amid upholstered tea-time armchairs, a temple to the glories of the past. It was here that, in 1905, American millionaire George A Kessler gave a Venice-themed party, where guests dined in a giant gondola floating on 4ft of water. Off the Thames Foyer some imaginative reorganisation has turned a meeting room and storage space into the dazzling new Beaufort Bar. If you don't treasure memories of the American Bar, the Beaufort is now the more striking option: blue marble columns and black velvet upholstery are the backdrop to £40,000 worth of gold leaf adorning the walls. The American, meanwhile, is just as it has been since Harry Craddock ruled here in the Thirties: louche and snug, with low-slung banquettes bathed in pools of caramel light.

Many of the Savoy's staff have been poached from top hotels and restaurants around the world. The service is attentive but discreet, which makes the prices (glass of champagne: £16) easier to swallow. My butler certainly knew how to iron a shirt.


Built on the site of a burnt-out former royal palace, The Savoy stands on a bend of the Thames on the Strand, more or less at the centre of London. It was founded by the theatre impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, who wanted to create somewhere comfortable for his audiences to stay, and it remains handy for seeing a show.

As the first hotel to have serviced apartments, The Savoy became the permanent home to actresses, celebrities and aristocrats, including Sarah Bernhardt and Lady Diana Cooper, who moved in during the war to save bother with the blackout.


With three years to think about it, the design has been well-planned. Bedrooms are in two distinct schemes; those facing the river are Edwardian in style, on the Strand they are art deco. The emphasis is on restrained elegance rather than anything too flash, with designer Pierre-Yves Rochon plumping for soothing shades of yellow and green. Impressive touches include wardrobes where a light comes on as you reach in, and a maxi-bar hidden in a faux chest of drawers.

There are 268 rooms, a few more than before. Though my corner suite had a generous living room, the bedroom was perhaps smaller than you might hope for. Beds are of the plump, high-up variety; comfortable, but two obese tycoons might struggle to get in together. I awoke to a framed photo of Sir William Walton and his wife on my beside table, who were, "loyal Savoy guests for many years".

The bathrooms, classically decked out in black and white and marble, are a high point. A little pillow cradles your head in the bath, or you can wallow in the rain shower.

But perhaps the nicest touch is the bespoke headed notepaper, showing your name and period of residence at the top. If only mine could have been longer.

The Savoy Hotel

Strand, London WC2R 0EU (020 7836 4343;

Rooms - 4/5

Value - 3/5

Service - 5/5

Double rooms from £347 including breakfast; up to £10,000 for the Royal Suite.